House of Mind

"Biology gives you a brain. Life turns it into a mind" - Jeffrey Eugenides

  • 13th January
    2011
  • 13

Do compulsive/pathological liars have different brain structure?

The answer is yes. Numerous studies have converged in designating prefrontal white matter as the likely culprit behind all the lies. This increase in prefrontal white matter is also found in individuals that lie, cheat and manipulate others. Sounds bad…

Back in 2005, Yang et. al found an abnormal prefrontal white matter increase in the brains of pathological liars. The group postulated that perhaps this increase resulted in a predisposition towards lying. In 2007, the group examined white matter differences in four prefrontal areas by using structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). 

Prefrontal areas exhibiting increased white matter (in the liars’ brains) were: 

  • Orbitofrontal cortex (22-26% increase)
  • Inferior frontal cortex (32-36% increase)
  • Middle frontal cortex (28-32% increase)

So how does one explain these differences? 

There are many options. Among the ones I find most interesting are:

  1. This pre-existing variation of prefrontal structures may render individuals susceptible to pathological lying. 
  2. Excessive and repetitive lying activates the prefrontal circuitry underlying pathological lying. 

Another thing that I find very fascinating is that these prefrontal regions also happen to be implicated in executive functions essential for deception like decision-making and moral reasoning!

Other studies from nonhuman primates have suggested a role for larger neocortices in the act of deception. 

References:

Yang, Yaling, et. al. 2007. Localisation of increased prefrontal white matter in pathological liars. British Journal of Psychiatry. 190: 174-175.

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